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Please share a brief background of your innovation.
During the pandemic, the school’s priority was always to ensure that the students’ well-being and safety were prioritized whilst being online or returning to learning on campus, and to ensure that everything was being done to protect students that were at any sort of risk. We were very concerned about the effects of everything that was rapidly impacting our students’ physical, mental, social, and academic well-being. In 2021, ARKIS formed the “Safeguarding and Well-being Hub” to be run by a specialized team that is empowered to monitor and promote students’ well-being in every possible way. The school already had safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures in place before the Pandemic. As a result of the Pandemic, we as a school had to approach it differently and be innovative in what we did collectively for every student.
How was it planned?
As a first step, the school administration started interviewing different candidates to form the safeguarding and well-being team needed to implement the program. The chosen team members were a perfect mix of a counseling psychologist, a teacher with strong UN and global child protection background, and a high school IBDP psychology teacher. The team members received full training and an additional detailed certified safeguarding course online for the official implementation.
Next, was the setup of the strategic module and plan under the supervision of the School Principal. The team started giving workshops and training to all staff to educate them more about the safeguarding and well-being hub and to ensure that everyone is working in parallel with the school’s vision. The school ensured adopted a technological approach to implementing the program using the latest technologies developed in school and by engaging with the whole Safeguarding program and database “MyConcern” for official reporting and training as well.
The final step in implementing the program was the setup of the main hub rooms and the official venues which include the safeguarding office where all child-protection-related meetings or interviews are conducted; the play therapy room that is fully equipped in a children-friendly way, colorful and with all the needed toys and resources to facilitate play therapy practices. This is carried out by school counselors and play therapists working with children from 3 to 10 years old to assess their well-being and give them the needful support and prepare their action plans based on that; (Re-charge) The therapy room that is divided into 5 main sections – Reading (for well-being and psychological support related books), Art therapy (drawing and painting), Music therapy, and a Focus group therapy section (to facilitate sharing of experiences and student-led talks to help higher grade students deal with any well-being obstacle under the supervision of their safeguarding team members and school psychologists).
Did you face any challenges in implementation?
Building a “safeguarding/well-being aware” culture or environment, was one of the main challenges. The team had to build awareness of the importance of well-being among the staff, students, and parents. We had to navigate some resistance to how the community viewed well-being and safeguarding so that it could be understood and built on in a sensitive and serious manner. This included the fact that the school was now offering such services and was open to providing the right professional support when needed. We had to be very mindful and respectful of cultural restrictions or resistance to these concepts in general.
A brief assessment of your results
The main success criteria included the huge number of cases that we have handled so far! Staff, students, and parents are now much more comfortable in approaching the team and seeking our services and help.
Secondary students are now building their own focus groups to raise awareness towards different well-being concerns such as social anxiety, stress, sexual harassment, and more critical topics under the supervision of their safeguarding leads and school counselors to share experiences, hold campaigns and conduct activities that would support such cases and help resolve them.
The secondary students also run a ‘Growth Mindset’ mentoring program for elementary students. The school now has a culture and language for well-being, safeguarding, and support. The community is now well-versed in reflective discussions and openness so that we have successfully provided a safe place for these areas and discussions.
The School Principal was also invited to talk about our Safeguarding and Well-being program as part of the TES magazine Leadership podcast series.
In hindsight, what were the most valuable lessons learned? Could things have been done differently?
The main lesson was that well-being and safeguarding is essential and should underpin all policies and procedures. When handling and resolving their safeguarding or well-being concerns, students end up showing amazing improvement in every other aspect (Academic and non-academic)! Keeping this in mind, ARKIS’ vision is to focus firstly on students’ safeguarding and well-being in order to ensure a higher quality of education and life in general. We believe that here at ARKIS we have taken the right path toward comprehensive safeguarding and well-being in aspects such as the selection of team members, building a complete strategic plan and module; involving student-led efforts, and engaging the whole school community in activities and campaigns to raise awareness; sensitive cultural awareness of our student, staff, and parent community which impacts the way we move forward.
This is an ongoing and constantly evolving process and we cannot say we have completed our mission. However, we can confidently say that as a result of this work, we have a much happier and more confident school community!